Why scientists CAN be fabulous writers

Science. Writing.

Does seeing those words together make you cringe? It doesn’t have to.

science writing

Here’s why scientists may have a leg up on the rest of us when it comes to writing well. Don’t miss the writing tips at the end!

I see a lot of clever PhD students coming in thinking they are “bad” writers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They just need to learn to tap into a skill that they’ve already honed.

Here’s why I think scientists and academics already have the upper hand on writing:

Many scientists are left-brain dominant. The left side of the brain controls logic, analytical thinking AND language. So, believe it or not, it may actually be easier for scientists to become better writers than non-scientists. Scientists have already developed their ability to think things through logically, to tell a story sequentially, and to show relationships.

Think of writing as a puzzle. Don’t you love filling in the missing pieces? Fitting everything together so that it fits perfectly? In writing, you do just that.

As a scientist, you have already trained your brain to fit together pieces of a puzzle by showing relationships between facts or ideas. You may not have all the information, but your thinking strategy is developed. You can and should apply the same “puzzle solving” strategy to your writing.

You choose the most appropriate word and place it in the most simple sentence that portrays the essence of what you want to say. Still sound hard? You may just need some help finding your groove.

When you’re struggling with your writing, try these tips:

  • Delete what you’ve written. Sometimes trying to edit a clumsy, disorganized paragraph feels more like being up against a brick wall than starting the paragraph over and going back to the basics: “What do I want to tell in this paragraph?” Starting over rather than trying to salvage a mess can save you time and agony in the long run.
  • Move away from the computer and talk it out with a co-worker or friend. Explain to them what you want to write. Ask if they understand. Record yourself doing this and play it back when you’re sitting in front of the blank computer screen.
  • Focus on the verbs in your sentences. You always did something, found something, analyzed something. When you’re telling a story, we want to know what happened.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Getting the words down on paper is step one. Checking your structure and logic is step two. Making them elegant is step three, so don’t get ahead of yourself!

Like these tips? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think or better yet, stop by and have a chat with me at PhD Day at Utrecht University on June 14th. Hope to see you there!

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